A meeting of the Appomattox Regional Water Authority board drew a healthy crowd last week and many residents voiced concerns about the state of the lake and its management.
“The people are speaking loudly, clearly and in no uncertain terms that something needs to be done,” said Scott Wilson, a lakefront resident and member of the Lake Chesdin Environmental Protection Group.
Before the meeting, Richard Mezzatesta, who lives on Lake Chesdin, said it looked like, for some reason, the people in charge decided to drain the lake.
“They should have went to restrictions probably back in June or July,” he said. “I blame the board, and I blame [ARWA Executive Director]Chris Dawson. It’s just been mismanaged all around.”
But R.L. Dunn, who sat beside Mezzatesta, said he thought the board was “doing an OK job.”
“It’s just this is the perfect storm,” he said. “It’s hard to be prepared for something when you have three major things” – the driest year on record, the reduced flow of the water into the lake and the evaporation – hit at once. “They’ve got a tough job. I wouldn’t want it.”
The session began with a presentation by Kevin Massengill, Dinwiddie’s county administrator and a member of the ARWA board. The board heard “loud and clear” at its last meeting that there were areas it needed to review, including the Virginia Water Protection Permit and the drought response plan.
“Obviously, we believe that there’s probably some definite review that needs to take place with this,” Massengill said of the drought response plan. “The lake can drop down fairly significantly before you can actually call for triggers.”
The Sept. 16 meeting was well attended, he said, and “it seemed like a significant part of the conversation stemmed around … how much water gets released into the river.”
Based on input at the Sept. 16 meeting, the board followed up on several items, including an emergency water release waiver from the Department of Environmental Quality, a water audit and Chesterfield’s usage trends, the impacts of the 42-inch water line and the Swift Creek Reservoir System.
From June to September, Massengill said, 70 percent of the water that came into the lake was released as dictated by the water protection permit, and another 9 percent was lost to evaporation. About 20 percent was used by the member jurisdictions, he said.
On Sept. 17, DEQ modified the water protection permit to grant verbal temporary relief, he said. On Sept. 21, the agency granted further relief of 70 percent of the total inflow, he said, and on Sept. 24 it eliminated the side stream multiplier, he said. Now, the lake is able to release water on a one-to-one basis, he said.
One of the board’s short-term goals is to reopen the water protection permit, Massengill said. Citizens need to stay involved, he said, as there would be a 30-day comment period on any changes to the permit.
From April to September 2010, the Swift Creek water plant has been operating at 84 percent to 97 percent of its capacity, Massengill said. And, even with the construction of the River Road water line, Chesterfield’s average daily demand from ARWA hasn’t gone up significantly, he said.
A steady stream of residents took to the podium during the public comment period, and all expressed frustration with the situation at the lake.
“I think in our daily lives, we all think we’re prepared,” said Tom Yeager, a resident of the Eagle Cove subdivision. “Our disaster plan was tested and it failed miserably [in 2010].”
For four of the last five years, “we’ve experienced severe drops in the lake level,” he said.
“I was kind of scared today with the rain that the lake would rise and we’d forget what happened in the summer of 2010,” he said.
Scott Bradshaw, of Matoaca, said there was a big piece missing from the dialog; he hadn’t heard anyone talk about the fish, eagles and other animals that live in and around the lake.
“The upper part of the lake where the river flows in is devastated,” he said. “The wildlife has been devastated.” Bradshaw said he was a member of the Lake Chesdin Environmental Protection Group, and “we’re putting you guys on notice.”
“We expect you to be better stewards,” he said.
Barbara Williams, who worked on the lake for 37 years, said the condition of Lake Chesdin this summer was “shocking.” Why wait so long to put water restrictions into effect, and why release so much water when the water level is so low, she asked.
“I think there’s been a mismanagement of the lake, maybe not intentionally,” she said.